Stomach upset, anxiety, sleep cycle screwy: What's wrong with me?!

Warning, long post. There's a tl;dr at the end, but you'd be missing a lot of background! :P Also, I know the whole "Reddit is not a substitute for professional medical advice", I'm just trying to see if anyone has experienced anything similar / has any advice. I'm not the kind of person who really ever goes to the doctor, and if a lifestyle change could help me I'd much rather do that first than spend thousands of dollars to have a doctor tell me the same thing. However, this has been going on for over a year now and is impacting my life, and I want to do something about it if possible.

Quick about me: Male, 26, 6ft 145lb.

Current complaint:

Basically the biggest issue is that my stomach seems rather overly sensitive. Every morning it feels uncomfortable / bloated, whether I force myself to eat something or not. This often persists through the afternoon, and on occasion the entire day. The discomfort is not so much pain as it is pressure, mild nausea, and bloating / the need to burp. Sometimes antacids help a little, although that may just be placebo, and forcing myself to burp can help too. BM's range from 3 to 6 on the Bristol scale, varying on a near daily basis, and with the sense that things are not spending more than 12-24 hours in the GI system.

This issue causes my second complaint, or is perhaps caused by, or perhaps they feed each other, which is kind of anxiety. That is, when my stomach is upset, it makes me worry about it, which probably makes it more upset. I'll start worrying that this time my stomach is going to be a little more upset than normal and I'll vomit, or that people will notice my discomfort, or... well, it's hard to describe because I know it's not really a logical feeling, but suffice to say my upset stomach can make me feel quite anxious especially when I'm around other people.

A third thing that may factor in to this situation is my sleep cycle. I am currently trying to get a good amount of sleep, usually going to bed between 11 and 12, and waking up usually around 9am. Despite this, when I wake up I still feel incredibly tired (though not always sleepy, sometimes I wake up naturally but still feel groggy and tired). I really can't get going sometimes until 10am, and I'm usually still a bit out of it (and worrying about my upset stomach) for the rest of the morning.

Background:

As for the stomach issue, I don't know where this is coming from. Growing up I was never particularly food sensitive (though I did tend to be a picky eater). I believe I am mildly lactose intolerant, although I never ate very many milk products anyway -- don't like cheese or yogurt or drinking milk, that pretty much leaves ice cream, and these days I take lactaid with ice cream. Last year I discovered that I'm apparently allergic to bananas; I had started eating bananas in 2012 and would have them as snacks, but at the same time my digestive health was going downhill, painful upset stomachs and occasionally bloody stool. Took me some time to make the connection, but I eventually realized that my stomach always became upset 15-20 minutes after eating a banana. Stopped eating them and improved immediately. However, I guess I'd say I never went quite back to normal, because since them I've been experiencing the symptoms described above.

I'd also classify myself as eating generally decently, I eat out some and cook for myself some, eat a mix of fruits, vegetables, meats, and pastathings, drink probably 80oz of water a day and a little fruit juice, not too into sweet foods / drinks, rarely ever drink alcohol or anything with caffeine. I'm underweight if anything.

For the anxiety, well, I'm not entirely surprised at myself. I've always been extraordinarily shy / had social anxiety issues. Any time I'm entering a new situation or one where I'm not in control, I'm likely to feel some anxiety. In my younger years I believe I suffered from depression; though it was never diagnosed or treated, I was really pessimistic about life and occasionally mildly suicidal. In the past 5-6 years, my mental state has dramatically improved with respect to the depression, and I've gained some confidence, but I'm still likely to be very anxious and/or awkward in social situations. I suppose in my current situation, it's the fact that I can't control my stomach upset, and it might be noticed by others, and it might be potentially embarrassing, that causes my anxiety. Alternately, I'm experiencing stress / generalized anxiety which manifests as an overly sensitive stomach -- this is something I am not really certain about, is the anxiety an amplifying factor in a physical stomach condition, or is an upset stomach a psychosomatic response to a mental condition?

As for my sleep cycle, I've always been a "night owl" and have always functioned better at night. That said, in high school and before I had to get up early, and was able to do so without these issues. Throughout college, I also kept a generally earlier schedule. It's only been the past couple years that I've just been unable to function well in the morning (oh, and if I force myself to get up earlier, my stomach will be even more upset throughout the day). It doesn't matter if I go to bed at 9pm or at midnight, I still can't function in the morning (and I'll sometimes still take a nap for an hour or two in the late afternoon). I'd almost describe myself as delayed-phase sleep disorder, because sometimes when I decide to stay up late working, I'll feel best and get the most done from like 11pm to 3-4am.

So, Reddit, what do you think? Do I have some physical issue causing my digestive upset, and if so is it some chronic lifelong thing, or something that could be treated / mitigated? Or do I have some mental issue that's manifesting itself as sleep cycle problems and upset stomach? Or do I have a sleep disorder that's causing stomach and mood disturbances? or do I have a bad case of intestinal gnomes?

tl;dr: Suffering from chronic upset stomach (lack of appetite, nausea, bloating and discomfort); anxiety; and delayed sleep cycle / inability to function in the morning. All three seem to be related, but I'm not sure what the core issue is nor what to do about it. However, this has been going on for a while and is negatively impacting my quality of life, so I want to figure something out.

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JustAnotherAltAcct
4 Answers
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2 people found this helpful

What you are describing here is basically a textbook case of mild irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and a mild social anxiety disorder combined. IBS is a functional bowel disorder strongly associated with anxiety and other psychosocial factors. Patients with IBS also have increased motility of their GI-tract (which you are describing) and often increased sensitivity to distention of their GI-tract. About 20% of the general population fulfill criteria for IBS, so it's very common.

So the question is, what can be done to help you? Sometimes it can be helpful to eliminate/reduce certain things from your diet. About 20% will have some relief of symptoms by eliminating lactose (which you already did) and wheat from their diets. Also reducing caffeine (which can also increase anxiety, but you rarely use it it seems) and artificial sweeteners can help.

As for the anxiety, there are many options. Being shy and feeling social anxiety in new situations is extremely common - so common that we may call it normal. You can always take some measures yourself to help your anxiety - like exposing yourself to new situations more often and going out to meet people more often. I know this can be very difficult, because it's unpleasant, but it will help in the long run. For example, when you have a choice between going out and staying home, try to always chose the option of going out. Just know that social anxiety is very normal, and everyone feels some anxiety in new situations where they dont have control. As long as you're able to live with it and go on with your daily activites it doesn't necessarily have to be a big problem.

However if your anxiety comes to the point where you are isolating yourself or unable to go on with your normal life, I'd recommend seeing a psychologist. The best treatment right now is cognitive behavioral therapy, which is generally very effective. There are also drug treatments with SSRI's (anti-depressants) and specifically for anxiety and IBS, amitripyline.

I think your sleep cycle-issues are also related to your anxiety, but might also be symptoms of depression.

If you have any questions or something is unclear, feel free to ask and I'll try my best to answer.

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Hey, thank you very much for the thorough response. Looks like I've got some reading up to do. Interestingly, sometimes I feel like just knowing what something is and that it's not entirely abnormal can help with the psychological factors involved. Perhaps I'll try modifying my diet a bit--you mentioned reducing wheat, I'll give that a try. Thanks again!

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Hi, I'm not sure if you still check this alt account but if you do I was curious how it turned out. Came across your post while searching for what's been going on with me and your story is almost word for word my symptoms. Even down to the paragraph about how the upset/uncomfortable stomach fuels anxiety in social situations.

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